Panasonic has been listening. Finally a real video camera that is backpaker friendly. Water proof down to 5 feet,shockproof to 4 feet, SD recording (the zoom is the only moving part) 10x optical zoom, 1 1/6" CCD (same as most entry to mid level domestic type camcorders) palm sized, about 8 oz inc battery. MPEG2 recording (standard definition, 30FPS/640x480 in the NTSC format) $399 RRP (+/- $350 street price)
Thanks for the heads up on this. What a decent price for a camcorder that you can dunk in saltwater. Sounds like the higher-end version would be worth the extra $100. Wondering what Barry thinks about this new entry -- does it meet the criteria he wanted in his dream camcorder?
I've been a still photographer but have been wanting to get into video. This one might be the one that gets me to take the plunge.
Hi Kevon It's a start. A very entry level video camera but nevertheless a real video camera. Many years ago Hitachi had a decent Hi8 rain proof camcorder but it was not a success. At that stage they were making most of the Canon video so it is not that Hitachi or that model it self wasn't any good, it just was not promoted enough. Recently Olympus have done very well with their SW series in still cameras and Pentax with their Sanyo made WP series are also doing OK. I use the Pentax WPi not because it is a "good" camera but simply because I don't trust myself in the bush with a non weatherised model. So if the Pana SW is successful we can expect more from other manufacturers. Now that the SD card is up to 32GB, making a waterproof camcorder makes more economical sense. Franco
I would recommend it for the casual shooter who doesn't require presentation quality video. Big pluses are light weight (can't get much lighter), small size (hide it in my pocket when I go to the hockey games and concerts), and robust design (takes a lickin' and keeps on flickin'). Minuses are video quality, record button availability delay on startup, and very basic set of options (my camera has more!). Would I buy it again? Yes, it does what I need it to do, but I'm not thrilled by it. It fills a niche. OK, now for more detail.
There's good and there's bad. On the good side:
Oops proof - yeah, really oops proof. I dropped it already and it survived with just a few scuffs. Nice polycarbonate case that won't crack. The lens assembly is behind a recessed glass shield, so it can't be broken by a casual drop.
Runs for 50+ minutes on a 1000 mah lithium polymer battery. Really light and easy to keep a few around for replacements. Battery capacity is about what it takes to fill a 4 GB memory card. External charger is available but doesn't come with the camcorder.
Low light performance is adequate. It can get grainy when shooting by campfire. Overall video dynamic range is about what you'd expect from an entry-level camcorder.
Built in stereo mic is remarkably clear with good imaging. No motor equals no annoying noise.
REALLY water resistant. There are two major penetrations on the body - one houses power, usb, and video/audio out jacks. The other covers the battery and SD flash card. Both use rubber gaskets to seal out the environment. You can dunk the device but I wouldn't recommend sustained underwater use. Nice in wet weather! Would like to see some kind of squeegie device to wipe the lens clean. Towels don't cut it. And water-resistant means dust-proof. To clean the camera, just wipe it down with a damp cloth. No worries. This camcorder would survive Burning Man (aka Playa Dust Bowl).
Now for some negatives:
Movie quality - it is about on par with Hi-8. If you move the camera rapidly there is some tearing - appears to be related to the interlace (edges and lines perpendicular to the plane of motion become zig-zags). I kinda expected a bit more for the price. At least it's not whole frame tearing like those Aiptek camcorders.
Gotta really watch the record indicator! When this baby powers up, it can take up to 3 seconds AFTER the viewfinder goes live before you can press the record button. This has led to more than a few precious moments lost because I THOUGHT I was recording. Then when I thought I stopped recording, I actually had started it. So there are a number of lengthy upside-down videos of whatever was behind me.
Yeah, it shoots pictures too. Why is this in the negative column? Because it shoots 640x480 pictures. That's it. Still have to bring my 6 megapixel still camera.
Kinda nit-picky, but when you have the camcorder mounted (standard 1/4" threaded insert) you can't open the door to change the battery or card.
The anti-shake is digital instead of optical. What that means is it is fairly useless at more than 3x zoom. It also leads to jerky movies because it tries to hold the picture "in place" until it can't, then it resets on the new frame and tries to hold that one.
Camera gets warm with extended (> 5 minutes) shooting. It gets warm right under where your palm rests. It can become uncomfortable.
MPEG2 recording - wish it used MPEG4 instead. 50 minutes of video fills 4 GB in high quality mode. This would be enough for 4 hours of high quality MPEG4 video. I also don't know why Panasonic chose to use a .mod extension on the files - none of my equipment will play them until I change the .mod to .mpg.
Now why don't they shrink one of the HD camcorders down to this size? Aiptek managed it, but their corner-cutting makes the device unusable (high quality picture with crappy mono audio that's recorded through the device's SPEAKER!). It's on my wish list.
Hi Jim Your extensive and informative review pretty much explains why I rarely comment on cameras particularly video cameras outside the photographic forums. Compared to the video clips recorded by most if not all the still cameras , the Pana is way better than that. However if you have ever shot with something like a Sony VX2100 or FX1 , the results would be disappointing. That is why I compared the Pana to my Pentax WP. Great for what it is but not if you are into photography. I have even seen people raving on about their Aipteks, I used to sell them but as a toy or a crash camera not as a video camera. This year there is a big push for High Definition, particularly on flash memory using AVCHD (MPEG4 similar to H264) The 07 line up was close but still not as good as MPEG2 on Mini DV( see Canon HV20/HG10), but they are getting better all the time. So maybe later on this year or early 09 we will have shock/waterproof HD camcorder of the Pana SW size. Have fun with the Pana !!! Franco
Go on and keep commenting! I wouldn't have said a word about the camcorder if you didn't start the thread.
Definitely waiting for the next generation of HD camcorders. I played with a few of them at the store - at $800 I can be happy with my $200 Ebay steal for a bit longer.
Panasonic has a line of HD cams that show promise, but I wouldn't buy the hard disk version, even if it has a freefall sensor. The video forums are full of people who bought camcorders with hard drives and crashed them. With memory card prices dropping rapidly, I don't see any reason to trade five 1/6 oz 8 GB flash cards for 7 oz of 40 GB hard drive. 16 GB cards are available but still pricey. 32 GB cards are supposed to show later this year.
The camera definitely has a fun factor to it. At least my two girls seem to think so. I think they've used it more than I have! That also explains why I've already got 70 GB worth of movies on the computer. Guess I'll need one of those terabyte external drives soon! The semi-indestructibility of the unit makes me much more comfortable letting them play with it.